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Blogpost 10/21/20 Martin Luther and Malcolm X

Through reading Zinn and the article by Clayborne Carson, I was enlightened and challenged to approach history through a more holistic, humanistic, and complex lens which added a lot more meaning to this time period’s impact on more modern history. History typically presents Martin Luther King Jr. as a peaceful, and almost passive, and crucial leader in the “peaceful” Civil Rights movement, and especially influential with the March on Washington. Although he had a carefully cultivated image, this was purposeful to gain as many followers as possible (which mainly meant appealing to white Americans). Though this image made it hard to see Martin Luther King Jr. as controversial, especially as we are examining history retrospectively, it is important to remember how controversial and difficult the fight was towards any positive measures, especially as the government was actively or passively fighting against most aspects of their protest. Although it is typical of history to oversimplify and define history through its leaders, I thought it was interesting to hear about the team of mostly black women organizing the grassroots movement. 

Similarly to Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X has been severely oversimplified and overshadowed in history. Before this reading and podcast, I knew Malcolm X solely because of his more violent reputation but knew nothing of his personal or familial past. Now that I know this information about the probable hate crime that killed his father, his parents’ civil rights work, and his conversion to Islam, I have been able to decipher a lot of his quotes that have been taken out of context. One of the most interesting aspects of Malcolm X, besides how much he contributed to the Civil Rights movement without accreditation, is his influence after his death on the movement. Many of his more violent and passionate speeches were considered too much and too radical to contain in the NAACP movement and in historical records while he was alive, and I think this was because of the threat of a large-scale, full-blown uprising, as he was calling for, was too much for people to support or to “market” to supporters. Therefore, people had more control over his rhetoric and legacy once he was dead, and manipulated his popularity and influence for their own agenda, which overall did still help progress the Civil Rights movement. As a white person, it is upsetting and uncomfortable to see a lot of this movement’s history changed in order to make it suitable or more palatable for future white audiences, which really takes away from the Civil Rights movement.

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2 Comments

  1. Julia Leonardi Julia Leonardi

    It is so sad to see the misinterpretation of Malcolm X in history classes. No one talks about his past or what led him to where he was. People just write him off as crazy and move on. I am once again so happy we are reading this book and seeing all the stories behind him. He was truly a great man who was in his total right when he preached everything he preached.

  2. Sophia Peltzer Sophia Peltzer

    I really agree with your point about it being uncomfortable knowing that history is so changed in the way it is told so that it is more appealing to the white audiences to which it is being taught. It is my hope that due to the widespread use of technology, future historians will find it impossible to censor and narrate history in the way it has been for centuries due to the vast amounts of information available that can quickly show many different perspectives. In particular, your comment about the women as the invisible leaders of the Civil Rights movement made think of the black women who created the Black Lives Matter movement, and it makes me hope that history will credit them for their achievements and influence, unlike black women of the Civil Rights movement.

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